To understand the pressures, feuds and questions about competence within former President Donald J. Trump’s legal team as he faces potential prosecution on multiple fronts, consider the experience of Eric Herschmann, a former Trump White House lawyer who has been summoned to testify to a federal grand jury.
For weeks this summer, Mr. Herschmann tried to get specific guidance from Mr. Trump’s current lawyers on how to handle questions from prosecutors that raise issues of executive privilege or attorney-client privilege.
After ignoring Mr. Herschmann or giving him what he seemed to consider perplexing answers to the requests for weeks, two of the former president’s lawyers, M. Evan Corcoran and John Rowley, offered him only broad instructions in late August. Assert sweeping claims of executive privilege, they advised him, after Mr. Corcoran had suggested that an unspecified “chief judge” would ultimately validate their belief that a president’s powers extend far beyond their time in office.
Mr. Herschmann, who served on Mr. Trump’s first impeachment defense team but later opposed efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 election, was hardly reassured and sounded confused by the reference to a chief judge.
“I will not rely on your say-so that privileges apply here and be put in the middle of a privilege fight between D.O.J. and President Trump,” Mr. Herschmann, a former prosecutor, responded in an email, referring to the Justice Department. The exchange was part of a string of correspondence in which, after having his questions ignored or having the lawyers try to speak directly with him on the phone instead, Mr. Herschmann questioned the competence of the lawyers involved.
The emails were obtained by The New York Times from a person who was not on the thread of correspondence. Mr. Herschmann declined to comment.
Mr. Herschmann’s opinion was hardly the only expression of skepticism from current and former allies of Mr. Trump who are now worried about a turnstile roster of lawyers representing a client who often defies advice and inserts political rants into legal filings.
Mr. Trump’s legal team just won one round in its battle with the Justice Department over the seizure of documents from his residence and private club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago, and it is not clear whether he will face prosecution from the multiple federal and state investigations swirling around him even as he weighs another run for the presidency.
Mr. Trump has also just brought on a well-regarded lawyer, Christopher M. Kise, the former solicitor general of Florida, to help lead his legal team, after being rejected by a handful of others he had sought out, including former U.S. attorneys with experience in the jurisdictions where the investigations are unfolding.
Mr. Kise agreed to work for the former president for a $3 million fee, an unusually high retainer for Mr. Trump to agree to, according to two people familiar with the figure. Mr. Kise did not respond to an email seeking comment.
What to Know About the Trump Investigations
But Mr. Trump’s legal team has been distinguished in recent months mostly by infighting and the legal problems that some of its members appear to have gotten themselves into in the course of defending him.
In a statement, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, Taylor Budowich, said that “the unprecedented and unnecessary weaponization of law enforcement against the Democrats’ most powerful political opponent is a truth that cannot be overshadowed and will continue to be underscored by the vital work being done right now by President Trump and his legal team.”
Two members of the Trump legal team working on the documents case, Mr. Corcoran and Christina Bobb, have subjected themselves to scrutiny by federal law enforcement officials over assurances…